Tagging Along with the Energy Experts

Posted: November 28, 2011

Have you been considering upgrading equipment in your cold storage, greenhouse, or irrigation system? Penn State Extension, in conjunction with USDA Rural Development, is now offering a program to provide low cost energy audits for farms in Pennsylvania. USDA will pay 75% of the cost of the audit, leaving a cost of only 25% to the farmer—saving you up to $1000 (or more, depending on your operation and location). The energy audit will include an easy-to-understand report that lists recommended ways to improve energy efficiency on your farm, plus information on possible funding for installing energy efficient equipment. It will be up to you to decide what to do with this information, but we will help you understand your options and see how you can upgrade your farm's energy performance. An energy audit is a required first step for many funding programs, so this is an important first step for taking advantage of a variety of energy installation programs.





Dr. Katie Ellis, Ag Innovations for Specialty Crops Extension Educator

In April, I tagged along with Penn State energy gurus Dan Ciolkosz and George Hurd as they visited Beechwood Orchards, a diversified fruit and vegetable operation in Adams County.  We first sat down with the owner, Dave Garretson, to discuss the setup of the farm, crops grown, and the buildings and equipment where energy is used.  Next, we looked over the electric bills from the past year; this gave a baseline to work from.  Finally, Dave took us on a tour of Beechwood’s buildings and equipment—these included several refrigerated storerooms and a greenhouse.  One storeroom was under construction, which gave us a great opportunity to look at the compressor/condenser and fan units to be installed.  We took lots of photos to document equipment models, light bulb wattages, and room configurations.

 After the tour, Dan and George reviewed all of the information they gleaned from the visit and prepared a detailed energy audit report for Beechwood Orchards.  We met again with Dave in September to review the team’s findings.  The report addressed each apparatus that used energy in some way.  Dan and George recommended several “Energy Conservation Measures” (ECMs), or possible methods to reduce energy on the farm.  For each ECM, the estimated annual savings, cost to implement, and payback period were calculated.  Since 80% of Beechwood’s total electricity use was spent on refrigeration, some of the greatest energy cost reduction could be made with changes like upgrading evaporator fan motors and compressors or installing an evaporator fan controller.  

Some of the possible upgrades were not recommended by the auditors because their payback would take longer than five years.  In other cases, Dave was commended for installing novel innovations of his own, like skylights to reduce the amount of work lighting during the day. 

If you’re interested in a detailed audit for your own farm, you still have the opportunity to participate in this program.  Visit for more details.

Check up on your energy I.Q.!

If you’d like to make some energy-saving changes to your operation but aren’t ready for a full-blown audit, check out the tools and tips at the Farm Energy Efficiency portal at  Here you’ll find ways to improve energy efficiency in greenhouses, select efficient motors, choose lighting systems, and manage your electrical demand.  You’ll also see how energy is used in other horticultural operations, from cold storage to apple processing.  Real-time monitoring of various equipment also shows how electricity is used; this information is supported by funding from the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania.